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Babel - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu interview

Brad Pitt in Babel

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MEXICAN director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu talks about the challenges of filming the epic Babel and some of his hopes for the movie.

Q. Is Babel a culmination of a trilogy, with all three films revolving around an accident?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: I see this film as the last piece of a triptych that started with Amores Perros. I think together they are built as a body of work because not only the content – parents and children reunited in some common subject matter – but formally too they combine different stories.

One character is combined and defined by the other stories. So formally and substantially they belong to a family. So I see this as a piece and then it’s over and it’s time to move on.

Q. Can you talk about some of the logistical challenges you faced especially in terms of shooting in three different continents?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: There were several challenges at different stages and every one of them challenged me differently. I think the whole fact of putting these diverse elements together to bring them into one single film was the most scary thought that I had in mind when I made all the decisions.

I was very aware of the danger of finishing this as four short films that would not be related to one another and that all these diverse elements would create something that would not be congruent. So, obviously the challenge was how to put together these pieces through emotion and through themes more than plot and physical joints, which sometimes people don’t understand and people complain and criticise.

I think this is a film that you can’t approach intellectually and ask about the academic structure or plot – act one or two or three. It’s made in a raw, chaotic way as the world is happening – that was the intention.

Q. Has your working relationship with [actor] Gael Garcia Bernal changed since Amores Perros – if so how?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: Something that I can tell you is that I felt the same that I felt doing Amores Perros which is that Gael has a way to approach things that’s very fresh way. He doesn’t over rationalise or over intellectualise and that, I believe, is the power of innocence more than experience.

Every time that I’m challenged with a film I think that I haven’t learned anything, that every film is different and that every thing that I have learned is useless in this new adventure. So I try to take out all that experience and approach it like it’s virgin territory which makes me very aware and very afraid of the situation and that’s great.

I think I feel the same with Gael, we are basically creating in that moment, “catching the butterfly but not taking the wings – leave it alive”. I felt the same feeling when we were doing Amores Perros, the sensation that we were sculpting the piece without too many preconceptions. It’s like playing football, you have to be flexible.

Q. Why did you make the decision to tell the story using a lot of children and how difficult was it working with younger actors in the complex emotional scenes?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: With the kids I try to be very simple, I try to help them trigger some image. I always use “as if you’re doing this” and try to connect them with a very particular emotion in their life experience that they can just bring 5% of and apply it.

But imagination is the key with kids – play with them that game. Some of them are really mature I think – they’re scary… Elle Fanning is more mature than me I think, so that’s scary sometimes, they’re like little adults. But at the same time that I try to be simple and talk to them as kids and play. I have to be very honest with them. So, simplicity is the key element with them. I try to clarify very simple things just to find the action curve that will drive them.

Q. Did working with the Moroccan kids and American kids reinforce the feeling that we’re all the same under the skin?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: Yeah, but I have to say there’s a big difference; the Moroccan kids were very, very humble kids, so they were really street wise. Theirs is like another approach in life; they’re not used to having managers and publicists if you know what I mean.

Also, on the set they’re sexually very, very aware of what’s going on, trying to flirt with every assistant. I mean they were really awake sexually which was so funny. And they were just very primitive.

The other [American] kids were very polite and more educated and more used to being served – it was a huge difference. But at the end, they’re kids even though I had to approach them very differently.

Read our review of Babel